A Moving Experience

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"They don't let us sit down," she says.

DART dancer Angela Hill didn't know what to expect when she learned last fall that DART would be working with Herrera students. The 24-year-old ASU student had just moved to the Valley from Knoxville, Tennessee.

She was unfamiliar with the Latino culture and really didn't know what to expect from an inner-city school.

"They just seemed like normal kids to me," Hill says of her first impression of the Herrera students.

But when she got to know the kids better, she says, she realized that many of them had limited visions of their future.

"For a while, it seemed some didn't comprehend what it was like to be in college, what ASU was all about," she says. "Some thought ASU was a single building.

"I wondered if they understood the concept of how possible and accessible it is to go to college. I wondered whether us being around them planted a seed -- "Yes, I can go to college. Yes, I can go to college and dance, too.'"

There is no doubt in Hill's mind that many of the kids could excel.

"They learned so fast; they really surprised us," she says. "They liked the challenge and wanted to impress us."

The Herrera students not only impressed the DART dancers, they also choreographed significant sections of the performance -- including a wild tumbling section in which three kids roll like logs side-by-side, while a fourth dancer dives onto them and is propelled forward by the rolling catapult.

"They had sections they taught us," Hill says. "We had sections we taught them."

Herrera student Armando Plascencia says working with DART has changed his view of what he can do and solidified his goal of becoming a professional dancer. The experience has also provided some vital technical information that will help him get there.

"Some of them taught me to take deep breaths during the movements," he says. "Feel inside to see what feels right, what movements feel right, and just follow your heart."

Armando says his parents, stretched between children and jobs, won't be able to attend the ASU performance.

"It really doesn't bother me that much," he says, downplaying his disappointment. "I kinda got used to it. So . . ."

The ASU performance means a lot to Armando, who has applied for one of two summer arts camp scholarships DART will award after the show.

"I'm kind of nervous. I've been working on this quite a while. We are not ready to perform because a lot of kids are messing around and we are trying to learn new movements and stuff," he says. "So I kind of think we are not ready, but we have to do our best."

The ASU dance department's auditorium is filled with more than 200 people attending DART's March 27 Community Showcase. The bill features a swing dance team, a comic skit by a Native American group called Which Way Productions, a dance and reading by DART that explores father/daughter relationships, an intriguing Japanese drum and dance performance, and a beautiful, moving dance called Crying Green featuring poetry by Mary McCann.But it is Herrera's dancers who get top billing.

The kids are slated to close the first half of the performance with "Circus," a dance featuring only the middle-schoolers. They will close the evening with their "Intersections" collaboration with DART.

It is double-duty time for the kids from the barrio.

No longer jammed into a tiny classroom, the students spread across a huge, elevated stage with a wooden floor.

A rising curtain welcomes the students to the audience before them. A crowd of mostly strangers awaits their every move, perhaps easing the sting of relatives who are unable or unwilling to attend.

Spotlights flood the stage, illuminating beaming faces of kids who -- for at least this moment -- are the complete center of attention.

Music fills the auditorium through a professional sound system, a stunning change from the boom box Bendix had used earlier in the day at Herrera's cafeteria.

"Circus" evokes laughter from the audience, which delights in the youths' creative costumes and powerful physical movements -- particularly a segment in which dancers don sweat shirts stretched high over their heads by jamming a basketball into the hood. The effect creates an amusing, elongated, faceless creature that, despite its alienlike appearance, still struggles with the woes of adolescence and the pain of secrets revealed.

Bendix's love of raw movement is apparent throughout "Circus" as her students display their athletic talents, bouncing balls, hoisting themselves on poles, tossing each other about.

Their ability to perform in a more controlled fashion is displayed in the evening's final performance, "Intersections."

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty